Berkeley -- As synthetic biologists cram more and more genes into microbes to make genetically engineered organisms produce ever more complex drugs and chemicals, two University of California chemists have gone a step further.
They have assembled different types of genetically engineered cells into synthetic microtissues that can perform functions such as secreting and responding to hormones, promising more complex biological capabilities than a single cell alone could produce.
"This is like another level of hierarchical complexity for synthetic biology," said coauthor Carolyn Bertozzi, UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology and director of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "People used to think of the cell as the fundamental unit. But the truth is that there are collections of cells that can do things that no individual cell could ever be programmed to do. We are trying to achieve the properties of organs now, though not yet organisms."
While the synthetic tissues today comprise only a handful of cells, they could eventually be scaled up to make artificial organs that could help scientists understand the interactions among cells in the body and might some day substitute for human organs.
"We are really taking this into the third dimension now, which for me is particularly exciting," said first author Zev J. Gartner, a former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow who recently joined the UC San Francisco faculty as an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. "We are not simply linking cells together, we are linking them together in 3-D arrangements, which introduces a whole new level of cellular behavior which you would never see in 2-D environments."
Gartner and Bertozzi, the T.Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Professor at UC Berkeley and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, report on their assembly of three-dimensional microtissues this week i
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley